Detroit — City officials are boosting efforts to increase home ownership with a program that will allow the city to buy foreclosed homes from Wayne County and sell them to a nonprofit that caters to low-income residents. 

The initiative, approved Tuesday by City Council, targets non-owner occupied properties that have been tax foreclosed by the county.

It gives Detroit an annual right of refusal on the homes before they go to auction. 

The city first tested the program last year with a pilot project that targeted 80 properties, occupied by mostly renters, that the city purchased and sold to the United Community Housing Coalition.

The coalition then worked to sell the homes to those residents at an affordable price, which typically ranged from $2,500-$5,000. 

Now that the program is permanent, the city expects to save another 250-300 homes from the county's tax auction this year, said Victoria Kovari, general manager for the city's Department of Neighborhoods.

Kovari said the program helps stabilize Detroit's neighborhoods. 

"I think it's obvious that when you keep people in their homes, it's one less vacant home to be stripped, vandalized and eventually demolished, or to be a haven for illegal activity," Kovari said. "It helps keep property values stable." 

Kovari said most residents who enroll in the program will end up paying less to buy the house than they do in rent. 

Some residents, officials say, are able to pay the full amount for their homes at once while others agree to a land contract that requires monthly payments. The goal is for residents to pay for the house in full within one year. 

Michele Oberholtzer, director of the Tax Foreclosure Prevention Project for the coalition, said residents who qualify are typically renters, however, the program will also help residents who have had failed probate cases. 

Out of the 80 homes saved from last year's tax auction, 40 of those residents are now the deed holders for their properties, she said. 

The program is saving families from being evicted from their longtime homes, Oberholtzer said.

"A tenant has no advantage over the general public when they (houses) go up for auction," Oberholtzer said. "We love the opportunity to help the person who lives in the home become the owner. And recognize the value to the entire community of having more homeowners."  

Councilman Scott Benson, who sits on the council's Planning and Economic Committee, said the city has a strong interest in helping residents stay in their homes.

"I support the program because it offers another level of protection for city residents where we can help keep them in their home," Benson said.  

Residents interested in the program should contact the United Community Housing Coalition at (313) 963-3310 ext. 321. 

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